Avoiding Perfectionism

One of the pitfalls of Catholic living is perfectionism. At the personal level, the Catholic faith is all about striving for perfection in holiness to become closer to God. However, it is easy to get confused here and think we are called to perfectionism. Perfectionism is the misguided belief that we can be perfectly holy on earth. On the contrary, Catholics believe perfect holiness has its end in heaven, not earth. Therefore, we can improve on earth, perhaps to the point of sainthood, but not reach perfection. As holy as they were by the end of their lives, even the saints regularly committed sins (though probably all minor venial sins). Both perfectionism and striving for perfection involve the struggle to be perfect, but perfectionism is unhealthy and leads to disappointment while striving to be perfectly holy is healthy and leads to happiness.

The perfectionist expects perfection, maybe not immediately, but in some short timeframe. Then when they fall short of perfection, they get frustrated, angry, and stressed out. The reality is that all people on earth have committed sin and will continue to commit sin. Catholics strive for perfection in holiness and do make progress, but they know they will continue to make mistakes throughout their life. When failure hits them, they don’t get frustrated, they simply offer it to God and ask what they should do. It’s true that we believe in every moment we are capable of doing the right thing, but at the same time, we know that everyone eventually succumbs to temptation. This doesn’t give us a free pass but instead prevents failure from causing discouragement. We fail, learn from it the best we can, then continue striving for holiness.

Unfortunately, many Catholics believe living the faith means adopting perfectionism. Instead of becoming holier, better people, perfectionism leads to frustration and stress. Satan and his followers then latch on to fill the mind with thoughts of despair. Eventually, this can lead to giving up and abandoning the faith. Perfectionism can also lead to the sin of presumption, that we can somehow become holy enough to get to heaven without God. This tends to happen within people that are so successful they don’t see their own imperfections. Whether perfectionism causes an unhealthy frustration or the pride of presumption, it does not lead to God.

So perfectionism is harmful and can have disastrous effects. Instead, Catholics should simply strive for perfection (or holiness), do their best, and let God take care of the rest. In the long run, they will continue to make mistakes but slowly improve, slowly become holier, and eventually get to be with God.

The truth is that God knows all about our human struggles. His own Son lived as a human, so he knows how hard it is to be perfect. God knows we won’t be perfect on earth, so he’s not expecting it. At the same time, he knows we must be perfect to enter heaven. Anything that is lacking will have to be improved during the suffering of purgatory, so it’s to our own benefit to improve while still living on earth. Our efforts at perfection in holiness will lead to improvement, which will reduce our suffering in purgatory.

Furthermore, our struggles are pleasing to God, not because he wants us to suffer but because our continued determination in the face of failure is the biggest sign of our faith for him. We are choosing to suffer purely out of trust in God. He has told us what our reward will be for this faith, but we don’t have it yet, not for many years. Right now it’s all faith. That is a huge sacrifice for God and he knows it. A person doesn’t make that big of a sacrifice unless they really love the other person. God is greatly pleased to see how much we love him through this sacrifice.

The peace of the Lord be with you,
Jared

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Video Game Thoughts: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask was a 2000 action-adventure game by Nintendo for the Nintendo 64 (N64). When this game came out, I was a big follower of Gamespot, a video game news site. I checked the website daily for news and reviews about all the recent games. When Majora’s Mask came out, they gave it a pretty low score compared to the previous Zelda game, Ocarina of Time. The previous came scored a perfect ten, but Majora’s Mask only got 8.3 out of 10. Back then, Gamespot was my one source. When they said the game was good but not amazing, I decided to skip it. As a kid my allowance was only enough for a few games a year. I only wanted to play the best of the best. I am blessed that these games are still available these days and for very low prices. Because of that, I was able to play it today on the Wii U’s Virtual Console.

Unlike Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask did not have the typical Zelda story. In fact, the character of Zelda only appeared in one very short cutscene towards the beginning of the game. This game wasn’t really about Zelda at all. It was technically a sequel to Ocarina of Time, starring the same hero (Link) in a new adventure. Link somehow ended up in another dimension or alternate reality. He was now in the world of Termina instead of Hyrule.

The premise of the story was that Link was searching for his old friend, Navi the fairy, from his first adventure when he ran into Skull Kid. After Skull Kid stole Link’s Ocarina of Time item, he ran after him and fell into a deep hole, eventually ending up in Termina. Link got his Ocarina of Time back but then found new problem. The Skull Kid had got his hands on Majora’s Mask, a source of great evil in Termina. With its power, the Skull Kid was somehow magically pulling the moon down to one day crash into Termina. If Link didn’t help, Termina and all its inhabitants would be destroyed. Link could have just gone back to Hyrule, but being the hero he was, he couldn’t stand by idly or run away. He accepted the mantle of hero once again.

Death was a big theme in Majora’s Mask, so it tended to be much darker than most other Zelda games. Link encountered all manner of ghosts and people dying. In one poignant scene, Link witnessed a person die right in front of him and was tasked with burying him. Also, the entire world was going to die if Link didn’t help. Sadness was another big theme. Most of the people Link encountered were very sad about something. Someone had left them or hurt them in some way. This gave Link’s actions more impact. I could just feel the joy after helping solve a character’s problems. Sadness was also the main motivation behind the villain’s actions.

Ocarina of Time was much more epic than Majora’s Mask, but what this game lacked in epicness it gained in personality. The characters in this game just had a lot more to say. Most of them had quests Link could complete. This was important because there were only 4 dungeons. That meant Link only got 4 additional heart containers (health) from playing the story. The remaining heart containers required Link to collect a very large 52 heart pieces, one of the largest numbers in series history. Most of the characters had big problems, so the heart piece reward was just the icing on the cake. The joy of making someone happy was more than enough reward.

On the technical side of things, Majora’s Mask borrowed quite a bit from Ocarina of Time. With only a year of development, there was no time to create lots of new graphics. Almost all of the characters were just reused graphics from Ocarina of Time. This was okay because it reinforced the alternate reality theme. There were several new textures in this game though, and they were usually better than those in Ocarina of Time. Sometimes it was a little jarring seeing the older, lower quality textures next to the newer, more detailed textures, but most scenes looked pretty good. The sound effects were almost exactly the same as the previous game, but most of the music was new. Most of the music was subdued in the background, but a few tracks were really interesting. Because so much of the look and feel of the game was the same, Majora’s Mask felt like an expansion pack more than a sequel. It was more of the same for those that enjoyed Ocarina of Time. I think that was the intent because Majora’s Mask was a much harder game. Nintendo assumed the player already had practice from the first game, so they could make this one more difficult.

It was always pretty clear what Link had to do next to advance the story, but sometimes the details of how to accomplish that goal could be hard to figure out. Usually, it required a lot of trial error. For example, in the snowy part of the game, a critical character was hidden in a large snowball, but there were several of these in the game. I had destroyed a few of them and found them to just have extra supplies I didn’t need. When I couldn’t find the critical character I didn’t even think to try breaking all the snowballs. The game taught me not to do that by showing all the snowballs earlier to just have extra supplies and not characters to talk to. I don’t like trial and error stuff like this. I never like just wandering around randomly trying stuff until I figure out what to do. Fortunately, this only happened a few times in the game.

Another difficult part of the game were the dungeon puzzles. I found the first dungeon to be a cinch, but the last three definitely took some time to figure out. They really took advantage of the third dimension, so much that the two dimensional maps were just not good enough to really understand how various rooms connected together. Link couldn’t fly around to inspect a large room from all angles, so I had to make decisions based on incomplete information. In other words, later dungeons required more trial and error. In this case, I liked it because the dungeons in Ocarina of Time were usually too easy. Majora’s Mask had the right amount of difficulty. The sidequests were a different story though.

To really complete every sidequest was a daunting task without a guide. There were just so many sidequests in obscure places or activated in obscure ways it would take significant trial and error to find them all, let alone finish them all. I went through the whole story and beat the game without a guide. I then used the full set of equipment to go back through all the areas, searching for secrets and sidequests. I ended up being able to do about 80% of the game this way. For the remaining 20%, I used a guide. Because I don’t play games as much as in the past, I am okay using a guide to finish the last few things. I figure it’s not much different than the guidance I got from friends when I played N64 games as a kid. I never finished a game all on my own. We always played games collectively, finding new things and reporting them to the group.

Because I didn’t play Majora’s Mask until recently, it didn’t have the huge impact that Ocarina of Time did. I think it did several things better than Ocarina of Time, but the dated graphics and old technology prevented me from really loving this game. When I look at it objectively, Majora’s Mask was better than Ocarina of Time in almost every way. The only big exception was the story. Some people just didn’t like the darker themes in Majora’s Mask. I normally don’t like dark games, but the old graphics prevented the game from really absorbing it, so I wasn’t affected by it. For the low price I paid, Majora’s Mask was more than worth it. I will always have more fond memories of Ocarina of Time, but now I have a few to add from Majora’s Mask.

The Four Catholic Vocations

The Christian Vocation

As Christians, we are all called by God to believe in him. This was imprinted into our soul when God created us. With belief comes love for God. After love comes obedience in the form of worshipping God regularly through prayer, reducing or even eliminating sins from daily life, and expressing God’s love to others through service. All this can be simplified into one word: holiness. When we love God, we want to please him. Holiness is the way to please God. So all Christians have a universal call to holiness. This universal call is really a vocation. It’s that deep feeling of knowing ultimate happiness comes through God. This is the Christian vocation. All are called to this vocation.

In the Catholic Church, we have three more vocations: marriage, priesthood, and consecrated life. Compared to the universal Christian vocation, these can be considered sub-vocations. They are specialties within the Christian vocation or different ways of living out that universal Christian vocation.

Marriage

In marriage, a man or woman gives him- or herself completely to their spouse and children. Their goal is to lead their spouse and any children to God. They watch for sin in their spouse’s life, giving suggestions and strategies to improve. They educate their children in the faith, giving them the knowledge and skills to become and remain holy throughout their life. A big part of this involves being a good example, so the person has to be holy themselves to succeed in this vocation.

Marriage is the natural vocation. In addition to the love for him, God also plants in the human soul the desire to marry. Everyone is born with this desire. It is in our nature. Every human at some point feels attraction towards another, even priests. Sometimes life choices will lead a person in a different direction, but that desire remains. Thus, marriage is the easiest vocation to choose. On their own, most people will just fall into marriage eventually. For most people, it is only through a special calling from God that a person deliberately chooses not to marry. This call or vocation can be to the priesthood or consecrated life. Being special callings, they are not natural but supernatural vocations.

Priesthood

In the priesthood, the priest gives himself completely to the Church. He is obedient to his superiors, the bishops, cardinals, and Pope, following whatever orders they give. Many priests are faced with being reassigned to another parish. They can, of course, ask for a different assignment, but if their superior insists, they must comply. If they disagree with the overall Church in a particular matter of faith or morals, they can question it but eventually must acquiesce to the Church’s viewpoint. This is a sacrifice for the priest, requiring complete trust in God to lead him to happiness.

In most cases, priests serve in a parish. There can be other roles, including teaching at universities, traveling the world giving speeches, and serving religious communities, among many others. In all cases, the priest is responsible for leading their flock, whoever it is, to holiness and to happiness with God. This is no different than a married person who must lead their spouse and children to God except it is a much greater responsibility. Instead of being responsible to one family, a priest may be responsible for hundreds or thousands of families. For this reason priests have to be very holy, comfortable socializing, and extremely patient.

Consecrated Life

In consecrated life, a man or woman gives themselves completely to God, usually with the support of a religious community. There are even more forms of consecrated life than the priesthood from cloistered communities, where the members live away from the world many times under a specific “religious rule” in constant prayer and worship to God, to communities that work more in the world, serving the poor and needy or other good causes. Some individuals choose to be hermits, living much of life on their own with their gaze constantly on God. Consecrated virgins perhaps have the greatest freedom, living in the world, many times supporting themselves through their own work while serving others however they feel most called.

Whatever the case may be, these people make it their life’s work to seek heaven on earth. Of course, it won’t be fully realized until death, but they can expedite their path towards heaven through a greater focus on relationship with God on earth. In addition to serving their fellow brothers or sisters in their community and serving others through missions, their prayer offerings to God save countless souls in mysterious ways. Their life too is one of sacrifice.

Single Life?

All three sub-vocations involve a complete giving of self, a sacrifice for the good of others, but where does this leave single life? In God’s eyes, single life is a temporary state. In addition to the universal Christian vocation, God calls everyone to either marriage, the priesthood, or consecrated life. However, God also allows for free will on earth. A person might choose to ignore God’s call. They might be so distracted with their interests, they never even hear the call. Not hearing the call is not always the individual’s fault.

Other people around the person might prevent them from following the call. They might be born with or develop impediments that prevent them from following God’s call. Physically, they could be disabled or develop illnesses that prevent them from following the call. For example, maybe a man is paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. According to our Catholic faith, he cannot marry. Maybe God calls a person to the priesthood, but they develop chronic anxiety and are unable to handle the high pressure of being a priest. Spiritually, a person might pray and pray for their calling, yet never feel a deep calling towards any vocation, leaving them wandering throughout their life. There could be even less unique cases, like an individual just never finding the right person to marry.

We don’t know why God allows these things to happen, but some people just never end up discovering or following their calling. Ideally, everyone would eventually choose one of the three sub-vocations, but some people just never get there because of their own actions, the actions of others, or any number of impediments.

As Catholics we have to understand the ideal and trust God to lead us there. For those who have been searching for their vocation without success or whose life already prevents them from choosing a sub-vocation, know that only the universal Christian vocation is required to live in heaven for all eternity with God. God knows if you are doing your best and have no fault. Trust that he knows this and be at peace.

I am in this situation myself. My health is sufficiently bad to prevent me from making the sacrifices necessary for any of the sub-vocations. For a number of years, I was a wanderer, finding some attractive things about all three sub-vocations but never feeling a deep calling towards one or another. In the end, it was for the best. I developed health problems which are not compatible with a sub-vocation. My bad health is an impediment I have learned to accept. Life on earth is not perfect. Sometimes we have to look towards heaven for our happiness, not at anything of this world.

To those who have never thought about a vocation, there is always time to start praying and discerning. Talk to friends, family, and priests for advice. Contact your vocation director. God knows what will make you most happy on earth and is calling you to that happiness. Of course, you may have impediments or other things preventing you from choosing a sub-vocation, but you won’t know if you’ve never thought about it deeply for an extended time.

May God be with you in all your decisions in life,
Jared

Video Game Thoughts: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a 2017 action-adventure game by Nintendo that I played on the Wii U. I have greatly enjoyed all of the Legend of Zelda games over the years. I really like the gameplay formula they have. These games tend to focus on story with exploration and puzzles to keep things interesting. Breath of the Wild kept much of this but went in a radical new direction.

For the first time, the world of Hyrule was completely open. Link, the hero, could explore wherever the player wanted, ignoring the story indefinitely if they wanted. The story mostly played out in short scripted sequences every so often, leaving more room for the player to create their own stories in what they chose to do. There was still a core story, a main quest, but this time it was pretty short, maybe 20 hours at the most. The main quest was fun and enjoyable, but it wasn’t the meat of the game. The meat was getting to visit all these amazing lands, defeating enemies, and helping solve the problems of the people that lived there.

In the story, the main characters were still Link, Zelda, and Ganon, but the details were quite different. Usually, the evil Ganon would rise in the lands of Hyrule and it was up to Link, with the help of Zelda, to defeat him. However, when Breath of the Wild started, Ganon had already won 100 years prior. It was a post-apocalyptic world. Link had awakened from a long slumber with the task to defeat Ganon and heal the damage done to the world. Zelda was a much stronger person this time. She ultimately did depend on Link, but she was capable of quite a bit more on her own.

The story wasn’t my favorite part of Breath of the Wild, not because it was bad but because it was such a small part of the game. The vast majority of my time was spent wandering around defeating enemies, finding treasure, and completing side quests. That is what I remember the most. There was a little bit of story interspersed here and there to bring the main quest back to the foreground, but then it was in the background for another 5 hours. That made it hard for me to remember much of it.

I never really felt like I got to know the characters. Unlike Skyward Sword, Link didn’t have any dialog choices. Zelda’s personality was hard to follow since the story sequences were so sporadic. Ganon, in this game, was reduced to a mindless evil monster. The story never moved me like the stories in some of the previous Zelda games. This is just a side effect of a huge open world game though. The main story can never be the main feature; the game world serves that purpose. The game world was perfect in Breath of the Wild.

Breath of the Wild was by far the largest game Nintendo has ever made. The world was absolutely huge. I played around 72 hours to finish the main quest and only fully explored maybe 4 regions out of around 8 regions total. Even then there were side quests I could come back to in those regions along with minibosses I could fight again for more treasure. It was well worth the money just on playtime alone. Playtime is useless if you’re not having fun, but I had tons of fun with this game. The story wasn’t the best, but gameplay more than made up for it.

I have played other open world games, such as The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but I enjoyed the minute to minute gameplay in Breath of the Wild much more. Games like Skyrim were more fun to make plans for characters or quests and see them through to their outcome. On the other hand, Breath of the Wild was more fun to just wander around and explore with no plans in mind.

There were good incentives to explore. Some places were just there to appreciate the sights, but most parts of the game were filled with interesting content like treasure chests, new sidequests with useful rewards, or these little Korok creatures that helped Link increase his inventory space. Loading times were very minimal, maybe 30 seconds at the most but typically 10 seconds or less. I was really impressed with the gameplay, in particular the combat. The combat was similar to the previous 3D Zelda games, including Ocarina of Time, but much more polished and fluid in Breath of the Wild. No previous Zelda game gave the player as much control in how to fight monsters.

When facing enemy camps there were at least four options to tackle it. Option 1 was just running in and swinging a sword at everything in sight. Option 2 was using the environment like rolling a boulder or shooting a bomb. Option 3 was stealthily defeating enemies one by one. Option 4 was using Link’s “Magnesis” ability to pick up large metal objects to drop on the enemies. Many times there were other options, but these four options were almost always an option. My strategy was usually sneaking in trying to dispatch a few enemies silently before starting regular combat, but other people always used the environment. Once in combat, there were even more choices to make.

In combat, Link could throw bombs or shoot arrows at enemies or fight in close range. In close range, he could block with a shield and attack when the enemy was temporarily stunned or go the more risky two-hand sword without a shield. Another weapon type was the spear that offered great attacking range at the cost of low damage. There were also special Flurry Attacks that could be performed by dodging or avoiding attacks at the right moment. Some people specialized in dodging. I never got the timing down to do it consistently, but it was really fun when I pulled it off. Weapons could also be thrown for double damage. Some weapons like boomerangs even came back after throwing them. Between weapon type, throwing, blocking, dodging, sneaking, and using the environment, there were many different choices to make during combat. This kept things fresh. I was always learning something new throughout the game.

In addition to combat, this Breath of the Wild was great in the area of collecting interesting items. There were always new weapons, shields, armor, and ingredients to find. Armor was nice because it didn’t break like weapons and shields did. I spent a lot of rupees (in-game money) on the unique armor sets. The game was filled with various ingredients in every area. These could be cooked up to make special dishes. Eating these healed Link and usually also gave him a temporary special effect, such as Cold Resistance for staying warm in the mountains. I had a lot of fun cooking up various ingredients to see what special dish it would make.

One small downside here was that Breath of the Wild didn’t have the option to record the recipe, so I could make more hours later. There was a way to inspect a dish and get the list of ingredients, but once Link had eaten all of that dish, I had to go off of memory if I wanted that same dish again. It would have been much better if the game automatically recorded each recipe. Then hours later when I decided to go back into the mountains, I could look through all the recipes and find one that provided that special effect.

With so many useful items, it could be hard track them down after Link had used them. Well, the game had a really nice tracking system that unlocked just a few hours into the game. Once enabled, Link game could point Link in the direction of almost anything in the game from monsters to specific ingredients to even treasure chests. The only requirement was to take a picture of the object found in the wild. After that, it could be tracked. Many objects were unique — tracking would be useless for them — but it was extremely useful for the vast majority of items. To go along with this, the in-game map gave the player the option to place 100 identifying stamps anywhere they wanted. This empowered the player to create their own custom notes on the map for where minibosses, unopened treasure chests, or rare ingredients were.

The Legend of Zelda games are so good almost everyone has a different favorite game in the series. Breath of the Wild was far better than the earlier games in combat and exploration while being a little weak in story and characters. The other games have had their own positives and negatives, such as Twilight Princess‘s focus on story length at the cost of side quests. Regardless, I have enjoyed them all, including this latest installment. Even though I finished the main quest in Breath of the Wild, I covered less than half of the game. For now I am taking a break from daily playing. At my normal rate of around 3 hours a week, there is enough gameplay for several months. By then, the downloadable content will be out for even more fun. As long as the game continues to be fun, there is no doubt I will enjoy the extra content.

There is No Luck but God

A very common phrase these days is, “Good luck!”. While it’s a nice, feel-good thing to say, this phrase doesn’t really fit with the Catholic faith. We don’t believe in luck, we believe in God. To us, many things will feel like luck because we are not able to see the complex cause and effect going on in the world and universe, but it’s not luck for God. Countless forces are working in the world both in the physical and spiritual realms. These forces affect people in the surrounding area. Those people in turn affect other people. A single action can have very large impact on the world. We just aren’t able to see that or understand it, but God is all knowing.

God knows all the forces at work in the world, both the inanimate forces like wind and the animate forces like people and angels. God also knows the entire past, present, and future of the universe beginning to end. With this vast knowledge, God knows the detailed workings of everything that has happened, is happening now, and will happen later. To illustrate, compare your human understand of the world with an ant’s understanding.

This ant is minding its own business foraging for food when a potato chip falls nearby. It is a feast compared to the small size of the ant. The ant has no idea how this potato chip got there. If the ant had human intelligence, it would call this “good luck”. To us humans though, we can see the cause and effect. A person was eating chips at a picnic on the lawn and happened to drop one where the ant was. We can see there is no luck here. It was just cause and effect. Just as we can see there was no luck in this event of the ant’s life, God can see there is no luck in the events of our human lives.

All the many events in our lives have some combination of causes. Some of those causes are from people, whom God gives free will to. Other causes come from the spiritual realm, such as angels and fallen angels. Rarely, God acts directly on the world through miracles. To God, everything is determinate though. He knows exactly what is going to happen and when. To us, it will seem like luck, but to God everything has a clear cause. Good luck is not really luck, but the blessings of God.

Another potential problem with “good luck” is its origin. This phrase was adopted from a time when people believed in the god of luck, many times associated with gambling or games of chance. People developed these stories to explain the things they didn’t understand about the world. However, we Catholics don’t believe in luck or superstition (CCC 2111). We put our trust in God. We understand we don’t have to know how everything works. God will teach was what we need to know and give us the blessings we need to make it to heaven. Therefore, when you want to wish someone “good luck”, use a phrase that affirms God:

  • “God bless you.”
  • “I’ll pray for you.”

These phrases are a good way to acknowledge that God is in charge. Everything that happens to us during our lives is willed by God directly (through his own actions) or indirectly (by him allowing it to happen), so there is no luck but what God chooses to happen in our lives. What God chooses are blessings. Yes, even the bad things that happen to us are meant by God to be blessings for us, probably for growth in the faith or becoming closer to God.

These phrases are also a great way to spread the faith to nonbelievers. Some people may be hostile to the faith and treat you badly for using these kinds of phrases, but remember the beatitude that it is a blessing to be persecuted in the name of Christ. It’s hard to see that as a blessing, but Jesus promised a great reward in heaven for enduring that suffering. If you must say something without a direct reference to religion, use this phrase:

  • “I hope everything works out.”

As Catholics, we put our hope in God, so this phrase is really saying we hope God will guide them in wherever they are going or whatever they are doing. The nonbeliever will simply understand this as a human hope not divine hope. The listener of this phrase hears what they want to hear. Still, I think it is best to evangelize whenever possible, so always try to use a phrase that reveals your belief in God. It could be a conversation starter that leads to conversion later. With God all things are possible.

Thank you for reading this article. If it has helped you in any way, please consider saying a prayer for me. I suffer greatly as our Lord did, though not in the same way. I am eternally grateful for any grace I receive through your prayers and await our time in heaven when God will reveal how you have helped me. Do not feel obligated to do this, but I really need help. You can make a real difference in my life.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared

Book Thoughts: Back to Virtue

Back to Virtue was a 1986 Catholic book by Peter Kreeft. It was originally titled For Heaven’s Sake but was republished in 1992 with a new name. Peter Kreeft has a doctor in philosophy, so this book was primarily about making an argument supporting the need for Western civilization to go “back to virtue”. To do this, the book was structured into two parts. The first part (Missing: A Virtuous People) described the overall problem: Western civilization abandoned the idea of virtues, leading to all manner of chaos. Eventually, this would lead to the destruction of humanity by war. To avoid this destruction, people needed to go back to the virtues Christianity had brought forth. The second part of the book (Key: Personal Virtue) detailed the four cardinal virtues (justice, wisdom, courage, moderation), three theological virtues (faith, hope, charity), and the beatitudes that oppose the seven deadly sins. The first part was the most straightforward with the second part being the real meat of the book.

I agreed with pretty much everything Peter Kreeft wrote in Back to Virtue.  It was surprisingly accurate given the date this book was written. Other than a few references to the Cold War, this text could have been written today. While the Cold War is over, I really feel like the Western world is going downhill, and that lack of religion is the reason. It’s possible to be a very good person without religion but very rare. Without having good ideals to live by, most people will be as selfish as they can get away with. Selfish people do not do good.

The role models of the modern world are professional athletes, movie stars, and politicians, but these groups are some of the worst in God’s eyes. They are not good people, so Mr. Kreeft challenged the reader to be that good role model in society. Without Christians leading good, holy lives the author predicted the downfall of modern civilization. I agree Christians need to be holy. I strive my whole life to optimize my life around the faith, so I can serve God and others the best I can. I don’t agree that we can turn civilization back to God though.

My feelings in the salvation of modern civilization is product of the time I have grown up in. I have seen people continually move further away from God. Never has there been a turnaround. I know nothing is impossible for God, but because I have never experienced any large change towards God, I just can’t see it ever happening. Our world is stuck in the gravity of the black hole that is hell. I believe the good actions of Christians can slow this process down but never turn things around. That doesn’t mean we give up though. We do the best we can, as I am, and trust God with the rest.

I focus on the low level, identifying needy people and serving them the best I can. Of course, I am willing to give my thoughts on how to be holy — that’s a big part of this blog — but in general, I don’t believe it will lead a revolution. It would be sad if this world was all there is, but as Catholics, we believe in heaven, eternal life. We have something positive to look forward to. We need to do our best to save our soul and the souls of others, but everything else is up to God.

Back to Virtue had a heavy foundation in philosophy and logic. This made it very dense and slow to read for me. It is a book to be studied, not just read one time and set aside. I always enjoy studying the faith though, so I plan to spend a lot of time rereading each chapter. In reading this book, I realized holiness and ideals can be thought about in more than one way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church focuses more on the Ten Commandments, but a Catholic could also focus on the virtues as their guide for holiness. I will be looking into virtues more. If there is anything fruitful in this study, I will put it online for all.

Book Thoughts: Resisting Happiness

Resisting Happiness was a 2016 book by Matthew Kelly that my parish offered all parishioners after the Christmas services. It’s a nice yearly tradition to get some good reading material for the new year. This is the second Matthew Kelly book I’ve read. The first one was The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic. That book had a lot of good ideas. I ended up writing them all down and implementing the best ones. Resisting Happiness felt very similar. Just like The Four Signs, it was a book about being the best version of yourself. This time it approached the idea from the angle of happiness.

Resisting Happiness had a total of 37 chapters. Each chapter began with a short anecdote from Matthew Kelly’s life. He then extrapolated what he learned from that experience into a Key Point that summarized the essence of the chapter and an Action Step the reader could take to improve themselves. I have already been doing much of what Matthew Kelly suggested, but some of them were interesting questions to answer or things I needed to work on more. I wrote down all the Action Steps, did the short term ones, and made plans for the long term ones.

I already do many of the Action Steps like praying daily and regular Bible reading. I already had plans for some of them like going to confession regularly. Others, like writing a spiritual plan, I already did on my own. However, two new ones I am starting are offering every activity to God for an intention and making a conscious effort to listen to God.

Resisting Happiness taught me that our ordinary life (work, chores, etc.) is pleasing to God just as dedicated prayer is pleasing to him, so our normal activities can be offered to God as a prayer for something in return. My intentions will all be for loved ones both living and dead. I am excited to have another way to give back to others that doesn’t require me to leave the house.

Listening to God is hard for me because I am such a big thinker. I can sit for hours in silence just thinking about random stuff. It’s hard for me to empty my mind and just listen. I am taking what I learned from Fr. Larry Richards’ speech on Prayer to incorporate listening to God into my life. I will be trying my hardest to always ask God what he wants whenever I have a decision to make. Making this a habit will help me feel the presence of God much more.

Overall, I like Matthew Kelly’s message of being the best version of yourself. Before I even read any of these books, I had the idea to improve myself and be a saint. It has been continually reinforced with these books as well as my efforts on this blog. These days I have gotten used to the constant effort of improvement, but it was a major life-changing decision back then. I probably would have resisted had I known what the future had in store for me.

I developed several health problems over a six year period. They were easy to ignore at first, but slowly got worse. I prayed for healing for many years. Then my prayers were answered. For almost four months, I had no symptoms. I felt great. In return for God answering my prayers, I decided to start the path of improvement and become a really good person. Unfortunately, my good health was short-lived. The problems all came back worse than before. Since then I have had ups and downs with my health. Rarely, I have a good day or even a week but never several months.

I am still working on my health, but after working on it so long with no positive results, I don’t have any hope of being healthy again. I continue praying for it, but my hope is only in eternal life not any earthly happiness. So the primary thing holding me back from happiness is my bad health not any lack of action on my part. I did learn some things from this book, but I wasn’t really the target audience. Like most books, it was written for the average person with normal health, the people that have the freedom to do many things. On the other hand, my freedom is limited. I have freedom to do things from home or through the Internet. What I do outside has to be limited due to how much suffering it causes me. I still liked the book despite it not having the answer to my happiness. My happiness depends on God healing me permanently. Based on my past, that will never happen, so I am ever focused on the end of my suffering in heaven. Just because I am home a lot doesn’t mean I can’t improve though.

I still work on it every day. Most of my efforts are on improving my prayer life and sense of God in my life to ward off loneliness and finding ways to serve others from home. I’ve been working on this several years, but I continue to learn new things and start new practices. I continue to become holier and closer to God. All this excites me even more for my eventual peace in heaven. It’s so hard to wait many days. When the going gets tough I refocus on God with prayer and service. I am eager for the time of good health.

Speech Thoughts: Prayer

Prayer was a speech given by Fr. Larry Richards. I saw this priest speak at a men’s conference, and he was very good. He really knew how to grab everyone’s attention. My dad bought a CD containing the audio of this speech. My mom happened to find it while cleaning out all the religious books and let me borrow it. Compared to Fr. Larry’s speech on Confession, this one didn’t have as much new information. The focus was using Jesus example of how to pray (the Our Father prayer) to guide us in the present time.

Fr. Larry explained how Jesus’ use of “Father” as a name for God was unheard of in his time. The priests of the time believed God’s name was so holy it could never be spoken. On the other hand, Jesus made God much more relatable. He is our Father. By comparing God to our biological father, we could understand the kind of relationship we should have with God. We should love him like a parent because we are children compared to him.

The next part of the speech was about “Your will be done”. Fr. Larry explained that we need to listen to God. It’s not just about what we want or even need. It’s what God wants. God knows what our needs are before we even sit down to prayer, so we don’t have to worry about him not meeting our needs. It’s okay to ask for things, but we always need to think about what God wants first. This requires a lot of trust in God.

Fr. Larry did his best to promote mass for the next part. The words, “Give us our daily bread”, are not just about God feeding us. All our physical, mental, and spiritual needs are wrapped up in this sentence. On top of that, “bread” also refers to the Eucharist, so “daily bread” means go to daily mass. I don’t think many people were interested, but I like the idea. Maybe if I can retire someday, though I don’t see that ever happening with how expensive everything is these days.

The last part I remember was about “…as we forgive those who trespass against us”. Fr. Larry gave the Bible reading where Jesus said we would not be forgiven by God if we did not forgive our enemies here on Earth. I’ve done pretty well at this one. Sometimes I do get disappointed or angry with people, but I always forgive them a short while later. For some people, this is the great battle of their life. I am thinking of people that were abused as children or went through a painful divorce. It’s really hard to forgive someone that has caused so much suffering. I am so blessed to have not had to live through such tragic events.

For the last 15 minutes Fr. Larry put his own instructions into practice by leading everyone in prayer. The key thing was to imagine God through the image of Jesus standing in front of us. We could imagine what he looked like from his hair, clothes, skin, eyes, and more. That made it easy to see God is with us at all times and feel close to him. After developing a good image of God through Jesus, the prayer continued with repentance, surrender to God, allowing God to hold us, and praying the Our Father together with Jesus.

It would be too long to go into all the detail, but I got more out of this speech than I expected. I had copied a prayer format from a book by Matthew Kelly. This prayer was a good start, but I soon had a long list of petitions each day. I did do repentance and a tiny bit of listening to God, but the prayer was mostly about my petitions, what I want. I had been meaning to do more listening but wasn’t sure how. This CD came to me at a good time. I was able to combine the two prayer formats to create a new one that has the best of both. I start by surrendering to God, asking forgiveness and listening for his commands. Only then do I go into my petitions. I got rid of the long lists of petitions and now just ask for whatever comes to mind. These are the most important ones.

I am very excited to use this new prayer practice whenever I can. I can’t just drop everything for God, but I will ask God what he wants whenever I have a decision to make. This will mostly be during my free time. Sometimes I will get direction from these prayers and other times I will have to make my own decisions, but I need to involve God. That way at my death I can say: “I did what God wanted. Wherever I have ended up is because of God.” Of course, I can’t listen to temptations and assume they are from God, but if I feel called to do some good action, I can make that decision knowing God wills it to some extent. As long as I involve God in my decisions, he will be happy with my life and have little to worry about. I hope this new prayer practice will allow me to serve others even better. If God has my back, the things I do should be more effective.

Book Thoughts: Ending Abortion: Not Just Fighting It!

Ending Abortion: Not Just Fighting It! is a 2006 book by Fr. Frank A. Pavone, M.E.V. This book was written assuming the reader was pro-life. It’s goal wasn’t to convert the reader to the pro-life cause but to reinvigorate existing pro-life believers. My mother let me borrow the book. I have been a firm pro-life believer for many years but haven’t been active in arguing it. I knew the Church teaching on abortion, but like many things in life, it can be thought about in many different ways. Fr. Pavone is the leader of the Priests for Life organization and has been active in the pro-life movement for many years now. He has a lot of experience in this area, so I really felt like Ending Abortion provided a thorough examination of abortion in America. The book approached the subject from six angles: The Activists, Arguments, Women, Babies, Celebrations, Abortionists, Government and Church.

The Activists provided quick and easy actions the reader can take right now to make a difference. The Arguments listed out the most common arguments pro-life people can make to counter the arguments of abortion supporters. The Women explained how women are also victimized by abortion. The Babies described the value of even the tiniest human life. The Celebrations went through how to promote the pro-life cause through national holidays. The Abortionists went into how to organically shut down abortion clinics by converting the people who support them. The Government gave the obligations Catholics have as civil servants to fight abortion through politics and government. Lastly, The Church showed the Church’s stance on abortion and the actions the clergy can take to end abortion.

Ending Abortion was an easy read but took longer than some books. The book was structured as a series of thoughts on supporting the pro-life movement grouped into eight categories. Each thought was no longer than two pages, so Fr. Pavone got to the point quickly. He wrote in plain terms, making each point very clear. Each thought was a totally new idea to think about, with its own beginning, middle, and end. This made the book excellent for a short daily reading of just one thought per day but not very good for long, continuous reading like I prefer. I read the book cover to cover because I needed to catch up on my Catholic reading, but I plan to go through it more slowly later.

Ending Abortion had a lot of good ideas and arguments. I’m sure all this information is available elsewhere, but I will be compiling it into a short cheat sheet and posting it on this website. I will be giving the book back to my mother soon but want to retain the essence of the book. Posting it on the website will also allow anyone else to enjoy this information too.

One downside to this book was that fact that it was written over ten years ago. Several times Fr. Pavone referenced new developments in the pro-life movement which is now old news ten years later. This is not his fault, just the effects of the passage of time. I do wonder if he has written a newer book on abortion, but almost everything in the book still applies today.

27 Easy Questions to Prepare for Confession According to Fr. Larry Richards’ Speech on Confession

During Fr. Larry Richards’ speech on Confession he mentioned how anyone who didn’t know what their sins were in confession could just ask him for these easy questions. By the end, they would have a pretty good idea what their sins were. At the end of the speech, Father quickly rattled them off. After being reminded of their sins, I’m sure some people were ready to go to confession immediately after the speech ended. Anyways, I thought this list would be a good reference for others. I reordered the questions and polished it up slightly compared to the list given in the speech. It’s just an examination of conscience. You can find several of these online, but maybe this one is right for you. God works in mysterious ways.

Warning: According to the speech, Fr. Larry primarily works with college students, so he is very frank in these questions. Some of the language or wording may be inappropriate for children. Parents should review this list before handing it over to their children. You probably don’t want to explain some of these things to young children. 🙂

27 Easy Questions to Prepare for Confession

  1. Do you pray every day?
  2. Have you used God’s name in vain?
  3. Have you missed mass?
  4. Have you dishonored your parents?
  5. Have you gotten angry?
  6. Have you hurt others with your words?
  7. Have you made fun of others?
  8. Have you lied?
  9. Have you cheated?
  10. Have you gossiped?
  11. Have you been jealous?
  12. Have you been judgmental?
  13. Have you been proud?
  14. Do you consistently give to the poor?
  15. Have you gotten drunk?
  16. Have you gotten high?
  17. Have you had impure thoughts?
  18. Have you had impure actions with yourself?
  19. Have you looked at pornography?
  20. If not married, have you had oral sex with another?
  21. If not married, have you had intercourse with another?
  22. If married, did you commit adultery?
  23. If married, have you used artificial birth control?
  24. Have you had sex with someone of the same sex?
  25. Have you had an abortion?
  26. Have you helped someone else have an abortion?
  27. Are you sorry?

For a more detailed list, refer to the Sins List [PDF] from Fr. Larry’s Reason For Our Hope Foundation. You can also purchase a recording of his speech from that same website.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,
Jared